9 Jan

Miss Nevada USA turned Miss USA Nia Sanchez is getting ready to do battle against 88 rivals in a bid to claim the title of Miss Universe at the three-hour NBC pageant on Jan. 25.
This week, she flew to Miami for preparations. It’s a whirlwind schedule of hair-and-makeup sessions for pageant interviews and photos in a swimsuit, evening gown and national costume. Nia also takes part in charity events and cooking contests for the world’s most intense and glamorous beauty contest.

Nia is calm and composed in advance of the first preliminary competitions, which start Jan. 21 and lead up to last year’s winner Gabriela Isler of Venezuela turning over her crown.

It’s the biggest month of their lives making their hair and makeup picture perfect. Although it’s mainly about beauty, the judges, including champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, will be looking for brains, too, among the 89 competitors from Britain to Australia and the Ukraine to Russia.

On Friday, all of them will be introduced for the first time together onstage at Doral Park in the city of Doral near Miami. They are staying at pageant prince Donald Trump’s Doral Golf, Spa and Country Club hotel. On Saturday, Nia and her rivals take part in a runway session launching Chinese Laundry’s spring shoe collection. On Saturday night, there’s a salsa dance party with lessons.

Pop artist Romero Britto, who is a big supporter of our Keep Memory Alive galas for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health here in Las Vegas, will welcome Nia and the other ladies to his Miami studio on Sunday. Romero, who donates art pieces to the brain center, plans an interactive painting class with the contestants.

A Parade of Nations festival party with music, dancing, marching bands and luxury cars follows that, and Doral’s restaurants will take part in the festival.

Next week, the pace really speeds up with a golf tournament, Zumba lessons and cooking contest. As Miss USA, Nia joins Miss Universe Gabriela at the international charity Food for the Poor in Coconut Creek, Fla., that feeds millions of hungry people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nia also will support the Best Buddies charity, a partner of the Miss Universe Organization. Each contestant brings a “national gift,” and Nia’s brought one to best represent America to donate to a silent auction that raises funds for Best Buddies.

Nia, who holds a black belt in taekwondo, also takes part in the Yamamay swimsuit fashion show. She has one free night over the three weeks on location to party at the Image Skinwear reception.

Her Miss Nevada USA Pageant director Shanna Moakler, Miss USA in 1995, is certain that Nia will make the Top 15 selected from the preliminary pageant and announced at the start of the telecast from Florida International University Arena hosted by Thomas Roberts (MSNC’s “Way Too Early” and “Morning Joe”) and Natalie Morales (NBC’s “Today”).

This is the 63rd annual Miss Universe Pageant, and it’s the first time it has been extended to three hours. Nia is the first Miss USA from Nevada, and Miss Universe will air in 190 countries and territories.

Judging will be based on swimsuit, evening gown and interview for the finalists. Nia knows that the competition is tough. She’s up against her own hotel roommate 22-year-old blonde Australian beauty Tegan Martin.

Tegan is from Newcastle in New South Wales, the same hometown as 2004 Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins. Tegan, who worked in Paris as a model, won Miss Australia on her third attempt after placing second twice.

Nia, as I have reported from her wins as Miss Nevada USA and Miss USA, has been a model here and in Los Angeles the past seven years after starting out as a princess character at Disney World. She moved to Las Vegas full time more than a year before she won Miss Nevada. She is a big supporter of the women’s shelter Shade Tree here.

“I stayed in a women’s shelter for two months when I was 6 years old and my mom and dad were going through a divorce, so I’ve worked in women’s shelters,” she said. “Children are my passion, so I’ve taught Sunday School and martial arts.

“I can relate to women and children in shelters because when I was 21, I went through a very unhealthy relationship. I was lucky that I got out of it before it got abusive, but it was aggressive.”

Paula Shugart, president of Donald’s Miss Universe Organization, has told me that she would like to see the pageant return to Las Vegas. Donald’s son Eric Trump reconfirmed that in my recent interview with him.

Said Paula: “These contestants are savvy, goal-oriented and aware. The delegates who become part of the Miss Universe Organization display those characteristics in their everyday lives, both as individuals, who compete with hope of advancing their careers, personal and humanitarian goals, and as women who seek to improve the lives of others.”

Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez in Baton Rouge
Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez in Baton Rouge, La., for the 2014 Miss USA Pageant, which airs Sunday, June 8, 2014, on NBC. Launch slideshow »
2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez: Glamour Photos
2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez. Launch slideshow »
2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez
Miss South Las Vegas USA Nia Sanchez is crowned 2014 Miss Nevada USA during the 2014 Miss Nevada USA Pageant on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, at UNLV. Launch slideshow »
It seems that there is always controversy with a Donald Trump pageant. This year is no different with The Miami Herald reporting that residents of Doral are unhappy with a $2.5 million payment to provide support to the show. But the uproar increased when Miss Great Britain Grace Levy showed her national costume on her Facebook.

It’s based on a very short mini-skirt, high-boots version of the Queen’s Royal Guards uniforms at Buckingham Palace. One critic blasted it for being cheap and tacky, urging the Queen to kick Grace out of the country.

In the middle of her jam-packed schedule, I spoke with Nia on Wednesday morning after she had just completed a 30-minute workout in her hotel room with her rival Australian beauty.

First of all, how is your mood?

My mood is good. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot. I’m just thinking of it as a time to get to know a whole bunch of girls from all over the world and enjoy myself and just do my best.

Is it the same as preparing for Miss USA?

It’s similar to preparing for Miss USA but just a little bit more intense than I want it to be, with more competition and more events and activities. I think mentally that I continue to be prepared because it can be draining being busy for so long every single day, so I just have to prepare myself for that mentally.

What do you do physically to get in shape for this pageant? Has this taken longer than getting in shape for Miss USA?

Not really longer, but it was more intense. Getting in shape for Miss USA, I had four or five meals a day every single day, and getting in shape for Miss Universe, I have six meals a day every single day — full meals. That boosts my metabolism, and I also work out for an hour and a half six days a week.

(Nia works out under the Bombshell Fitness Training System, a mix of clean nutrition, weight training, plyometric workouts, cardiovascular training and 100 percent healthy supplements.)

How do you get your mind set for a pageant of this magnitude? I mean it’s one thing going from Miss Nevada to Miss USA, but it’s a mighty big step then going to take on the world, isn’t it?

It really is. I think to mentally discipline that I personally just put my faith first. I just have to read my daily devotionals, read my Bible. It helps me stay more positive when I do that, and then on the other side of that, when it comes to hanging out with all the girls, I just have fun with the girls and try to be welcoming.

I feel like it’s my job to welcome everybody because I’m the home country — even though I’ve never been to Miami until now. I’m feeling like it’s a brand new place, but I try to make everybody else feel welcome since they’re coming to my country, America.

How are your nerves?

I’m not nervous at all, but I didn’t get nervous at all for Miss USA, either. I just went into it like I’m going to be prepared, and if they want me for the job, I will be the best person for the job. So if they want me, great, and if not then God has something else planned for me. It’s the only way I can do it or else I’m going to freak out.

What have you been doing since you arrived, and what’s your schedule like?

The first two days were super intense. My roommate is Miss Australia, and she’s amazing. We’re doing everything together. We had to do our official head shot, we had to do our official bathing suit shot, we had to do our official gown shot, we had to get fitted for our costumes or outfits that we’re wearing, like bikinis and opening-number dresses.

After that, we had to go do our official photo shoot with Fadil Berisha, who’s the official photographer for Miss Universe.

What’s the film shooting schedule like for the pageant broadcast?

The show this year, the first time ever, Miss Universe is three hours on NBC. We don’t film it ahead of time because it’s a live show. The only things we film ahead of time are the clips and video packages. So that’s being filmed the entire time. We have to be ready to be on camera at all times because if they have a camera out, it can go on international television or on a huge commercial across the U.S.

What’s the experience been like so far for you? Overwhelming or thrilling or … ?

Overwhelming, yes. It’s been really run, run, run. When we started, we were 50 girls, so it was like Miss USA. Now the 88 girls are here, and I’m getting a feel for just how large and awesome this is. It was 51 at Miss USA, and here the numbers have gone up to 88. That makes you stop and think.

And is actor Daniel Booko, your fiance, there to root you on, or have you had to keep him away?

We can’t see anybody. We can’t see Mom, Dad, fiance, boyfriend. So Daniel isn’t coming until the 20th — just before the preliminary pageant.

And any of your family or Nevada people coming in for the big show?

Yes, my teen sister Alexa Taylor, Miss Teen USA last year. My mom, of course. Shanna will be there, and the current Miss Nevada Brittany McGowan will be there, too. I’ve got a crowd of supporters.

Brittany is really nice. Remember when you and I judged her? She’s going to be a really great titleholder for the year. She has the same kind of faith I do. She’s got that really good, well-centered personality.

What’s the next big thing that you’ll be doing down there for the pageant now that you’ve got the photos out of the way?

Now that we’ve got the photos done, we get started with the events. From morning until night, we’re doing different things around the city every day. The next biggest thing is the welcome event Saturday with all of the countries. We each get to wear a beautiful gown and be introduced, and they say a little something about us.

Final question: Does your country costume representing America have any Nevada influence?

Oh, yeah. I can’t tell you what it is, but it’s definitely all Nevada. It’s exciting and I think an extra reason for people from our Silver State to tune in and root for me.FOR MISS NEVADA USA 2_t653


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